Senior Kneller's strong serving sends No. 8 Stanford past No. 5 Cal Baptist
STANFORD, Calif. -- No. 8 Stanford found itself in a deadlock with No. 5 Cal Baptist in the fifth set of its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match at Maples Pavilion on Friday.
The Cardinal had just made up three points to draw even and Jake Kneller, the team's lone senior playing in his final weekend at home, brought the match home.
With the score tied at eight, Kneller served five consecutive points and, suddenly, the Cardinal was in command of a 25-23, 20-25, 25-16, 23-25, 15-10 victory that secured the sixth seed in next week's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
"He definitely gave us a ton of momentum," opposite hitter Brian Cook said. "You could tell he was in a zone. He was feeling it, just ripping balls."
The driving, looping serves immediately left the Lancer defense scrambling. Though none of Kneller's serves dropped in for an ace, they directly led to the Cardinal's surge. The success seemed like no coincidence, considering Kneller was one night away from his final home match in a career that included winning the 2010 NCAA championship in the same building. Kneller is the last link to that team.
"He knows it's his weekend," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "This just shows his true character. He's a winner and he's a great team leader. He can put a team on his back, even from the service line."
Steven Irvin had a team-high 14 kills and 15 digs to lead Stanford, which had three others reach double figures in kills. Cook had 13, Eric Mochalski 12 and Denny Falls had a career-high 10. James Shaw had 49 assists and set the team to a .303 hitting percentage against the Lancers (16-13, 12-11).
The numbers that stand out in the box score are those of the two middles, Mochalski and Falls.
"We needed a strong middle attack," Kosty said, "and Shaw did a good job to continually set there."
The Cardinal followed a similar plan to its Feb. 25 four-set victory against Cal Baptist, when Falls and Mochalski combined for 17 kills and a .680 hitting percentage. This time, they combined for 22 kills and a .526 hitting percentage.
"We passed really well," Cook said. "That was definitely the key."
One such pass resulted in the go-ahead point. Stanford trailed 7-4 in the fifth set before an Irvin kill sparked a three-point rally to tie the score. At 8-8, Kneller entered and, in the mad action taking place on both sides of the net during the rally, Cook found himself running toward the sideline while making a backward, no-look, cross-court set to Irvin, who pounded the ball into the ground to put the Cardinal ahead for good.